BAMENDA, North West—Anglophone activist mounted more pressure on the authorities in Yaounde on Saturday, demanding a referendum “without further delay” to return the country to a two-state federation, and declaring two days of no business protest across English Speaking regions on Monday and Tuesday.
In a statement that captured the growing disaffection between Anglophone regions and the rest of the country, the Consortium of Anglophone Civil Society Organizations (CACSO) accused the government of “hypocrisy”, casting doubts on the success of talks that resumed here between authorities and striking teachers to save the school year.
The statement that was released early Saturday came after security forces shot and “severely” wounded four people during a midnight “rampage” in Bamenda on Friday. The shootings came at the end of a day of “frank, heated and occasionally cordial” talks between the government and leaders of teachers’ unions at the North West Governor’s Office.
COCSO is leading what it says is a struggle against the marginalization of Anglophones and the violation of the terms of former British Southern Cameroons’ union with French Cameroon at independence in 1961. The group is now coordinating teachers’ and lawyers’ strikes that have crippled schools and courts in English-speaking regions since late last year. On 9 January, it successfully organized a ghost towns protest that shut down Anglophone cities, towns and villages and significantly extended the group’s sphere of influence beyond the two corps.
The recent COCSO statement contained stronger wording than earlier ones, referring to Anglophone regions as West Cameroon and accusing the Francophone-led government in Yaounde of oppression, kidnap, abduction and unlawful detention. For the first time, the groups composed mainly of lawyers and teachers plainly called for an Anglophone uprising “to pursue our freedom from oppression through peaceful resistance.”
In a radical change of approach, the Consortium also called for a vote to decide the fate of Anglophone Cameroon, which has gone from British Southern Cameroons to self-governed West Cameroon at independence to the South West and North West regions following a controversial referendum in 1972 and later changes.
COSCO’s new stance appeared to have been provoked by the events of this week and their determination to force the government to return to the terms of union agreed upon at independence. “[The consortium demands] that the government should organize a referendum without further delay so that West Cameroon can effectively return to a two-state federation,” it said.
The call for a vote comes ahead of the setting in place of a yet to be defined “national entity” to deal with the Anglophone Problem, which is the umbrella expressions used to describe wide-ranging and long-standing Anglophone grievances.
[ANALYSIS: We took from the development that the ongoing crises would be long drawn unless both sides radically change their postures. So far, the government appears opposed to any change in the current structure of the state.]
The shootings on Friday may have complicated the work of the ad-hoc committee examining Anglophone education grievances, which had appeared to be heading to “an eventual resolution of the crises.” It may have also bolstered the resolve of Anglophones to pursue self-determination in an autonomous federal state and deepened the current atmosphere of acrimony.
“Our people are determined to peacefully resist the sadistic military occupation, which has continued unabated for half a century,” the consortium said in the statement co-signed by Nkongho Felix, Fontem Neba and Wilfred Tasang. They continued by asking Anglophones to thank God this weekend for “delivering us from the yoke of operation.”
The talks had resumed even though authorities released only some of the protesters arrested in Anglophone regions and taken to jails in Yaounde following a ghost town of earlier this week. In addition to the ad-hoc committee chaired by the prime minister’s chief of staff Paul Ghogomu, teachers and other stakeholders met with Garda Haman Adji a former minister and a special envoy from President Paul Biya this week.
“In spite of the non-release of those children kidnapped and taken to Yaounde where they have been tortured mercilessly, the [teachers’] unions still accepted to talk to the government in the hope that reason might prevail,” the Consortium said. “While the teachers were preparing to educate the public on the discussion and resolutions today 14th January, elements of the police and gendarmes went on [a] rampage at about midnight yesterday shooting four unarmed young men and severely wounding them.”
The Consortium condemned what it termed “the continuous militarization of the North West and South West regions” and “continuous disproportionate use of force against unarmed civilians.” Next week’s ghost town, the group said, has been declared to “protest against the continuous shooting, arbitrary arrest and maiming of our people by Cameroon police and gendarmes.”
Authorities have not responded to the development.